Before the Storm


There actually was a time I favoured more conservative methods when extracting information.  Not quite naïve, no, but perhaps less committed as I’d one day become.  Either way, once Alex starts up the chainsaw and is a quarter of the way through Benny’s right knee, we’re given the name we’d been looking for.  Both arms, the other leg, and the cauterization of all four is just a bonus, so when we do eventually introduce Benny to the Hudson, he ends up knowing a little bit of what his victims went through, there as he sinks like a stone.  Not even close to fair by far, but this world, Culver especially, it has never been one to play fair.

Not when evil was involved.  Not even close.

• • •

“I gotta say, Bishop: if I couldn’t see it, I wouldn’t have believed it.”  I look to Alex, so young, so removed, and far from the middle-aged man who sells me out to a shit-stain by the name of Mapone.  Far from the crying, snivelling piece of shit who would cost me part of a leg.  Far from unexpectedly taking a knife to the gut from an advancing Batista.  And far from falling from the second-floor walkway of the Super 8 we track him to.  Further still: his innards not yet married to the hitch of my van and my foot not yet kissing the floor.  We’re years from this, millennia, but it would happen.  It does happen. I retain the prosthetic as proof.

But here, now, from beneath blonde hair as greasy as ever and mostly covered by a grey hoodie, Alex takes in what I take in—the very things we hoped we wouldn’t find.  To our left are the cages they held the children in, to our right the dirty mattresses they violated them on.  Further back, upon TV tables: dog collars, sex toys, and what for me becomes the hardest to reconcile: the swing.

Behind us, zipped-tied and unaccepting of her coming fate, Brenda Curr tries her best to plead a case for that swing.  I don’t let her, not as she’d like.  I lower the sawed-off instead, down onto the bridge of her nose, and in one quick moment, as it braces for impact, watch as the front of her face becomes the back of head.

• • •

Upstairs is a different monster altogether, the uncirculated air a mix of weed, rotting meat, and more than just dishes in need of a wash.  It wasn’t new either, none of it, but for the time being, in this small part of the world at least, an intermission was about to occur, one which I hoped would give other pieces of shit pause.  Again, conservative? Yes, perhaps I was.

In the kitchen, face up on dirty linoleum, lay the man Benny gave up.  Shirt open and zipped-tied as well, he’s running toward obese and sports the type of beard which isn’t really a beard at all.

“I’m going to ask you some questions, Frank.  I feel you’re telling the truth, Alex here, he remains in place behind me.  I feel any type of bullshit come into the air, the kid, he’s going to be hard pressed to leave you with teeth.”  His eyes went wide long ago, but he nods that he understands.  “I might be wrong here too, Frank, but it just feels off that foster parents could get away with this for as long as the two of you have.  I mean, some of those videos are date-stamped at over a decade old.  Makes me think you had help along the way.  You see where it is I’m going with this, Frank?”

For a wonder, he did.

Most times we get pushback, fuckers who felt (for a little while at least) they could handle whatever was coming their way.  Not Frank.  Not even close.  Spills faster than his head can shake it seems.  Gives us two more names in the link of a chain we’d been chasing for months.  Done, Alex moves in and courtesy of his size 10’s relieves Frank first of his teeth then his orbital bones, there as his brain pan is pulped into mush.

Looking back, the kid had heart.  If anything, I had to give him that.

• • •

It doesn’t take long after that.  Batista giving me the addresses a day after I give him the names.  Four days later and Alex and I have the last of them up in chains in a basement much like the one Brenda Curr looses her face in.  I’d like to say each man learned something from what we took from them that night.  I’d like to say it made some small part of everything they put into motion right.  I couldn’t though.  Not then.  Not now.  What I could say was this: it wasn’t over. As I told Batista: things had just begun.

~ fin ~


Beau Johnson is the author of the Bishop Rider Books.  A Better Kind Of Hate, The Big Machine Eats, All Of Them To Burn, Brand New Dark, and coming this October from Down and Out Books, Old Man Rider, Beau’s last published book.  He lives in Canada with his wife and three boys and wants you to know it’s been an honor as much as it’s been a blast.  Long live crime fiction.  Long live the dark stuff.